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The Theoretical Minimum: What You Need to Know to Start Doing Physics Hardcover – January 29, 2013

ISBN-13: 978-0465028115 ISBN-10: 046502811X Edition: 0th
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Editorial Reviews


Wall Street Journal, Best Books of 2013
“Every minute of our lives is now dependent on technology, yet the wonders of basic science are foreign to many of us. Everyone who remembers even a bit of math should read this inviting and accessible account of ‘what you need to know to start doing physics.’”

Wall Street Journal
“So what do you do if you enjoyed science at school or college but ended up with a different career and are still wondering what makes the universe tick?.... Leonard Susskind and George Hrabovsky’s The Theoretical Minimum is the book for you. In this neat little book the authors aim to provide the minimum amount of knowledge you need about classical physics…to gain some real understanding of the world…. They do so with great success…. Along the way you get beautifully clear explanations of famously ‘difficult’ things like differential and integral calculus, conservation laws and what physicists mean by symmetries…. Messrs. Susskind and Hrabovsky’s book is a powerful exposition of why science is ‘real’ and a counter to the kind of wishful thinking employed by people who, for whatever reason, reject the scientific worldview.”

Physics Today
“A pleasure to read….a beautiful, high-level overview of the entire subject.”

Scientific American's Cocktail Party Physics blog
“It’s clear, insightful, and designed for those hardcore physics fans who’ve read all the popular treatments and now might be interested in moving out of the armchair into the real action of actually engaging in theoretical physics.”

Science Blogs: Built on Facts
“[A] charming and erudite instance of a genre with very few members – a pop-physics book with partial differential equations on a good fraction of the pages…. More impressive still is that the book entirely resists the temptation to skip to the good stuff – quantum mechanics and so on. This is a book which is purely about classical mechanics…. [S]ucceeds admirably in its goal. It presents classical mechanics in all its glory, from forces to Hamiltonians to symmetry and conservation laws, in a casual but detailed style.”

Physics World
“Very readable. Abstract concepts are well explained….[The Theoretical Minimum] provide[s] a clear description of advanced classical physics concepts, and gives readers who want a challenge the opportunity to exercise their brain in new ways.”

Not Even Wrong
“[Q]uite good…. The style is breezy and colloquial, with lots of nice explanations of some of the basic concepts of physics. It’s wonderful to see Poisson brackets appearing and nicely explained in a popular book destined to be displayed at bookstores everywhere.”

Sean Carroll, physicist, California Institute of Technology, and author of The Particle at the End of the Universe
“What a wonderful and unique resource. For anyone who is determined to learn physics for real, looking beyond conventional popularizations, this is the ideal place to start. It gets directly to the important points, with nuggets of deep insight scattered along the way. I'm going to be recommending this book right and left.”

About the Author

Leonard Susskind has been the Felix Bloch Professor in theoretical physics at Stanford University since 1978. The author of "The Cosmic Landscape" and "The Black Hole War," he is a member of the National Academy of Science and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the recipient of numerous prizes including the science writing prize of the American Institute of Physics for his Scientific American article on black holes. He lives in Palo Alto, California. George Hrabovsky is a hacker-physicist in Wisconsin involved in as citizen science, or the community of individuals who do science at home. Since May 1999 he has been the president of Madison Area Science and Technology (MAST), a nonprofit organization dedicated to scientific and technological research and education. He lives in Madison, Wisconsin.

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Product Details

  • Series: The Theoretical Minimum
  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (January 29, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 046502811X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465028115
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (139 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #160,364 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

182 of 187 people found the following review helpful By Let's Compare Options Preptorial TOP 500 REVIEWER on January 21, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This 220 page 6 x 8.5 little text is packed with valuable nuggets, and does NOT shy away from advanced math. This book is based on the popular Stanford, online and YouTube "adult ed" lectures and is targeted at scientists and "amateurs" who missed physics in undergrad but are still interested.

NOT a "popular" physics book with a bunch of fluffy, non substantial speculation about membranes, stings, fractals, superpositioned states and multiple universes! Has real, tough, solid content with a LOT of advanced formulas, including tensors and many partial derivatives. You CAN "get" these with supplemental study, but the pace of the 11 lectures included is fast enough to leave you behind very quickly if you're rusty in math.

I teach ordinary differential equations to non engineers at classpros dot com, including Psychologists interested in the latest progress in nonlinear dynamical systems as applied to neurons, behavior, etc. This book is a real GEM as an intro to those topics, without "dumbing down" the content for a "lay" audience.

If you love reading populist texts on quantum physics, etc. this wonderful book will take you all the way from classic upwards, with the requisite math, and will provide a great foundation for really getting what's going on in the more advanced areas. Unfortunately, the math will scare lots of folks off, but please, don't be one of them!

The 11 lectures included are: 1. Classical Physics, 2. Motion, 3. Dynamics, 4. Multiple Particle Systems, 5. Energy, 6. Least Action Principle, 7. Symmetries and Conservation, 8. Hamiltonian Mechanics, 9. Phase Space Fluid and Gibbs-Liouville, 10. Poisson Brackets, Angular Momentum, Symmetries, 11. Electric and Magnetic Forces.
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220 of 228 people found the following review helpful By Alan Watson on April 28, 2013
Format: Hardcover
I majored in humanities but I'm interested in math and science, and I find this book both challenging and rewarding. But as I worked through it I found a number of things that looked wrong. Eventually I Googled the book's web site and found an Errata file that I downloaded. It identified 58 errors, most of them in equations and many of them significant enough to thoroughly befuddle a careful reader who trusted the book as written. That's an appalling number of errors. Somebody at Basic Books ought to be looking for a new job. I recommend the book if you are interested and willing to read carefully, but if you can't wait for a second, corrected printing be sure to download the Errata before you dig in!
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82 of 90 people found the following review helpful By Irfan A. Alvi TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 22, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Why didn't someone think of this before? The apparent target audience for this book is non-physicists who want to learn some *real* physics - which means learning the math too - starting from the basics and progressing up to a relatively high level.

The authors do clearly and systematically explain everything, pretty much step by step, but don't get overly optimistic. The climb starts easy and gentle enough, but becomes increasingly steeper and you'll be starting to feel the burn by the time you're a quarter to half way through the book. So come to the book with some prior comfort with higher mathematics, a willingness to exert yourself, and the discipline to pace yourself and be patient, taking breaks when needed.

If you meet all of these prerequisites, I predict that you'll be richly rewarded by undertaking this journey with this gem of a book as your tour guide. And regarding the journey, I should clarify that the scope of the book is limited to classical mechanics (Newtonian mechanics and its developments up to the 19th century), though the title doesn't convey that (the preface does). So you wont see any quantum mechanics or relativity here, and let's hope that the authors write additional books to cover those and other topics as well!

Last but not least, I suspect that a 'secret' additional audience for this book will be physics majors seeking a breezy overview to complement their regular (big and detailed) textbooks. :-)
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54 of 58 people found the following review helpful By Laurent Stern on February 8, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The "Theorical Minimum" was the name of the exam that applicants had to pass in order to enter the theoretical physics department of the Kharkov Physicotechnical Institute headed by Lev Davidovich Landau. L. D. Landau, along with A.I. Kitaigorodskii, is also known to have written a serie of four great popular science books presenting general physics to young people, "Physics for everyone" (which happens to be the name of Leonard Susskind's blog too...). I'm wondering if "The Theoretical Minimum: what you need to know to start doing physics" couldn't be the first book of a follow-up to "Physics for everyone".

I've studied physics in university but I've stopped before starting working on a PhD. That was more than ten years ago and I needed to earn a living but I still loved science especially physics. One day I've discovered the Leonard Susskind's Theoretical Minimum courses on Youtube and Itunes and I was litterally astonished by them as they are exactly what I was looking for: not courses for advanced undergraduate students, not popular science presentations devoid of any technicity (theoretical physics without maths is an empty shell: theoretical physics is about creating mathematical models of the physical world) but courses for people like me who knew some maths and physics at one point of their life and that want to learn the concepts of theoretical physics. Each course is made of about ten lectures, each lectures lasting about two hours. Watching these is quite time consuming and time is sparse if you have a job and a family. Also the courses were sometimes a little sketchy or not quite well organized (especially the first run... the second run is a lot better). The material simply had to be reworked and layed out on paper.
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